JLF 2019 Interview Series

Peter Bergen

The seismic shift in world order has led to us ‘flirting with the idea of a post-American world’. As a national security analyst, how do you interpret its impact on the USA’s foreign relations?
We now have four big centres of power – United States, India, China and the European Union. The US remains the first among equals. One interesting question is, if Hilary Clinton had won the election, what would America’s foreign policy look like? I think it would look different. We would still be in the Paris Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – which is not a trade deal, but also a way to contain China – we would still be in the Iran deal. Hilary Clinton is to the right of Obama on foreign policy, so she would’ve been pretty aggressive on Syria, she would’ve been pretty aggressive on Afghanistan, she would not be fighting with our NATO allies, she would not be embracing Putin. So, a lot of what we’re seeing today is about Trump, so the question is, when Trump goes, will the next President have similar impulses?

The next person in office has their work cut out for them.
That’s true. The hardest thing is creating these deals, pulling out is very easy, right? Look at the TPP – it took years to negotiate for 12 countries, and they’re going ahead with it without the United States anyway. Look at the Iran deal, the science behind it was very complicated. The energy secretary of the United States, who’s a very, very well-known scientist, helped negotiate the deal.

The big change is the rise of China. There’s a natural alliance between India, the United States and the EU to contain or restrain China, and that’s what the Obama administration had, and I think the next President will have. The interesting thing about the India-US relationship is that it’s one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, that it makes a lot of sense. So, Trump does represent something in the American public but the next President may well say the United States has benefited from the international order that it created – the World Trade Organisation, NATO, GATT, the UN, all these institutions that are largely created by the United States. They’ve largely operated in a way that’s been beneficial to the United States and other countries. That’s basically why Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned. I don’t think he resigned just because of Syria; it must’ve been brewing for a long time.

Like you said, burning bridges is easier than build them, so do you think the US will go back to the position it once occupied?
We’re still the largest economy in the world. The US has long-standing alliances with a lot of countries in the world, including India, including every country in the EU and NATO. I think it can go back because, at the end of the day, countries have interests that are not dependent on people, but it won’t be easy.

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